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When does the end justify the means?

The previous blog looked at the inherent difficulties of pedagogical change and of stepping away from the “traditional way” of teaching physical education. It asked how we might be increasingly aware of what we can and cannot change in the short term with regards to teaching and learning in PE and how we might know the difference between them. It also challenged us all to adopt a critical approach to teaching that is grounded in theoretically informed practice or praxis.

This week’s blog looks at the idea of good pedagogy and argues that it means different things to different people depending on their expertise. It also argues that we need to acknowledge the limitations of our respective expertise and find new ways of looking at the same problems. Ultimately, this means looking at the end goal and working backwards and forwards between it and our current position, rather than simply doing what we have always done in the hope of meeting our desired aims.

 

Volume 3: Teachers, teaching and teacher education in physical education

Paper 59:

Kelly, P., Hickey, C., & Tinning, R. (2000/2012). Producing knowledge about physical education pedagogy: problematizing the activities of expertise. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume III. (pp. 258-271) London: Routledge.

 

My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice

The first time I heard him speak I thought he was a lost prophet, a zealot preaching a message of ‘power to the pupil’. I was a ‘rugby man’, an archetypal product of a middle class school with a highly traditional approach to physical education and GAMES – with the emphasis squarely of the games. So what time did I feel like giving to such an idea? Put the pupils in charge and you’ll have an unmitigated disaster. Slowly however, as I worked more closely with my prophet I began to comprehend his ideas.

Extract from Armour (2006) 

I wrote this (and more) towards the end of my masters’ degree when I was asked to consider my journey towards pedagogical change. At the time of writing that reflection I was ready to acknowledge the huge role that my prophet had in my change journey. His was an approach to teaching based on the student while mine at the time was self-sufficient inasmuch as I could rely on myself. We had different views on what good pedagogy was (not that I think either of us would have recognized that term at the time) and in some respects we were each right – depending on which angle you looked at it from and whether you squinted your eyes and tilted your head slightly or not. Still we both came at teaching from a different perspective.

I wish I had had the chance to work with him on more that the odd summer camp and learn from him and his ideas but that was never to be. That said his impact has been far reaching and has been supported on the way by a number of individuals who have helped me to shape my pedagogy into something of my own. Yes it still has some remnants of his ideals but it is now honed through the application of research and practice.

When I talk about pedagogy I do so from this position and while I am still influenced by the work of others, I feel that I am more polishing rather than rebuilding my notion of good pedagogy. When I read the work of others and when I talk to them about their ideas of good pedagogy I experience a reaction. Sometimes I am pleased that we think alike, other times I am saddened that we don’t see eye to eye and occasionally I am horrified. I see the work of others (from a distance) and think, “I wish I could have done just a fraction of that when I was a teacher” or “that’s not teaching in any sense I recognize”. But that’s the crux of this argument. After all, as the saying goes, one person’s rubbish is another’s treasure.

The prophet did things that I didn’t see as teaching and visa versa and perhaps, in the mix of all the whirlwind of change that seems anchored above education and educational institutes this is the key to better understanding. I advocate for a child-centred, models-based approach to teaching because I believe it is capable of achieving the best possible outcomes for all students. I know that others can use a teacher-centred approach and yet still embody a student-focused mentality that really helps their students learn. It is about outcomes and not necessarily inputs – although as a caveat I still believe that a models-based approach is better positioned to achieve the aims and purposes I see for physical education. Good pedagogy is not one thing or the other, it is something that is capable of helping kids to learn and develop. It is something that is right for the context, the students and the teacher.  Consequently we need to be more tolerant of alternatives and be prepared to keep learning from each other.

That said we must stop being accepting of exclusive pedagogies that deprive all young people of success – no matter how passionately our peers argue for its worth. But we mustn’t make snap judgements simply because it is different. Different is good but indifference is bad. Let’s try and fight for the same ends even if it is by different means.

 

The Paper

Kelly and colleagues set out to challenge pedagogues everywhere to work more collegiately with one another when considering the idea of ‘good pedagogy’. However, they do this by suggesting that we (as pedagogues) are more critical in our consideration and deference to expertise – both ours and other peoples. Good pedagogy inevitably means different things in different contexts. So-called experts construct good pedagogy in education generally, and in physical education specifically, depending on where they work (universities, schools, clinics or government departments) and their sub-discipline (biomechanics, physiology, psychology, sociology, or pedagogy). This produces what Kelly and colleagues call both complementary and competing notions of what constitutes good teaching in physical education.

Fundamentally, therefore, our definitions of good teaching need to be approached critically and “everyday words like good, bad, true, false, and even teaching” need to be problematized and considered a little sceptically and controversially. Why? Because they might mean different things to different experts and we cannot assume that three different people will view these word in the same way when it comes to good pedagogy.

For example, a scientist might suggest that good pedagogy can be rendered identifiable, quantifiable, and predictable – all of which can be measured. In contrast a critical social scientist might argue that good pedagogy is educational, empowering and emancipatory – none of which would be easy to measure. How, after all, would you measure how ‘free’ you feel today?

Both are particular versions of the truth and both, in the words of Kelly and colleagues, should be considered as being “principled positions”. They are a form of truth telling but only when you consider the position that the teller comes from. Either way, both approaches suggest that there is a final solution – a perfect pedagogy so to speak – that might be obtained. However, good pedagogy (perfect pedagogy in fact) is not a commodity or an object. Good pedagogy does not exist outside of our conversations about it – regardless of our expertise. Good pedagogy is not a static thing but should be fluid, contingent and inherently unstable if it is going to be good in different circumstances.

However, good pedagogy as it stands promises a degree of mastery and control and seems to be grounded in the idea that it can be identified, measured and predicted. PE teachers are experts in their schools and their classrooms but that expertise is not always readily transferable from context to context e.g. from school to university or university to government office.

We are constantly given advice on how to live, on marriage relationships, diet, exercise, and, of course, how to teach PE from so called experts. What we need now, is to more discerning of this advice. We need to stop seeing experts as unchallengeable and start, instead, to unsettle the traditional ways of living. Trendsetters are people who find new ways of doing things (if you see the bandwagon you are too late to influence it) and who aren’t happy with the status quo. We need, in the words of Kelly and colleagues, to get involved in ‘everyday experiments’ and concern ourselves with the ‘life chances’ of those in our care and not just their ‘lifestyles’. We should ask questions like “How should I ‘practice’? or “what is a good pedagogy to achieve these aims?” We are repeatedly asked to adapt in our daily lives. Time, after all, stands still for no one. So lets be stop being so accepting and start practicing some ‘radical doubt’. After all, as Einstein said, idiocy is trying the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.

 

What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.

 

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor and Routledge (part of the Taylor and Francis group) for donating a copy of the Physical Education: Major themes in education series. Their respective help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence. 

Andy Vasily
About me
On Tuesday 18 March at 07:21 Andy Vasily said
What a topic! It is my belief that every single one of us is a very unique individual (and educator) and along with this comes very unique needs. We all come at things from completely different perspectives based on where we are at in life in general and in our teaching careers. What suits one certainly does not suit all. THINK: I very much look at things from the social scientist point of view when it comes to my teaching practice. I strive so hard to provide an educational experience that is empowering and emancipatory for my learners. I have worked hard to try to quantify what I do in order to measure its true effectiveness, but I can't. I have a feeling that what I do has a positive impact, but it is certainly not quantifiable in nature. For those that know my work, I place great value on student ownership and choice. Although this can seem chaotic at times, I continually work to refine how I deliver my lessons and units in PE. There are days I feel so incredibly in the flow with my teaching while other days I feel I know nothing. Everything is constantly changing and I challenge myself to always try fresh and new ideas. Do I feel my practice is best? Far from it. I feel as though I am a committed and passionate person and educator and am driven to continually break through to new levels of teaching, but get so stuck sometimes that it is frustrating. ACT: Ashley, I must change. I know that I need more to be challenged more in my practice. I need to better identify why I do what I do and back it up with the most current research. In fact, I need to deepen my knowledge and understanding of the most current research available to truly be able to assess whether or not I am an effective educator. I read a ton and always find content that resonates with me and I use this content to think outside the box of PE in an effort to bring new ideas into my actual teaching practice in PE. Does this make sense? CHANGE: I like the words of Kelly and colleagues what they say that we must get involved in 'everyday experiments' and concern ourselves with the life chances of those in our care and not just their lifestyles. Asking myself 'How should I practice?' is critical to my success as an educator.
Ashley Casey
About me
On Tuesday 18 March at 08:07 Ashley Casey said
Thanks for the reply Andy and for giving your teaching and your wider contribution to the community such thought and commitment. I know that I am proud of what I have achieved in the classroom but these moments of pride are quickly tempered by thoughts of what else I failed to deliver on and what I failed to achieve in my teaching and in my students' learning. I feel I have helped a lot of children to develop but I also think, in refusing to develop and becoming entrenched and siloed in THE WAY I though PE should be taught, that I have let some children down. When I receive invitations to 'this' or 'that' I feel proud but I also worry (just a little) that one day someone will work out that I am not an expert but am a learner on the same journey (hopefully) as everyone else who stoves to be the best they possibly can. We need to acknowledge the things we can change, the things we can't and work out the difference. Yet in the very act of changing something we need to look again at those apparently unchangeable things. We might just see possible changes as we look at it from a different position and as we acknowledge that there are alternative ways of say, doing and acting. Once this has happened then I believe we can do anything as long as we learn how and have the patience - years perhaps - to bring change to fruition.
comment avatar
About me
On Wednesday 19 March at 11:09 Colin Chambers said
A really useful post. Thanks for sharing. PE needs to evolve as much as all other disciplines. The challenge is always with handling the resistance to change. I meet a lot of resistance whenever I try anything new so it's nice to hear your experiences.
comment avatar
About me
On Wednesday 19 March at 19:13 Antonio Calderón said
As always, thanks for provocate the reflection about this "hot topic". Getting right to the point, for me a good pedagogy is built by A LOT of small (and aparently) "silly" and non-important pieces. When you are listening classical music, maybe you don't feel the difference BUT the sound of the flute, is crucial for a good and quality sound that makes you feel happy and to enjoy a good experience. Good pedagogy is the same, all the small and aparently "silly" things that the teacher plan to work with (task sheets, equipment, docs for reading, etc.) are crucial to let the students live a good learning experience in the specific context (that's good pedagogy for me too). I think to set the environment for learning, is one (not the only one) CORE facilitator of good pedagogy. This will let the learning go on (easily I guess). Right now I (and a colleague) are "setting the environment" for a 10 hours grade course (Research trends in PE). It will take place this friday and saturday. Two weeks ago, I shared with the students (via Virtual Campus) the basic guide with info of schedule, lecturers, goals, tasks, etc. One week ago we upload more stuff of the three workshops we are going to deliver on home-made equipment for PE games. We also uploaded to focus their attention, some videos of student designing materials for PE. Yesterday we arranged a group chat in which we were speaking about utilities, difficulties, challenges in PE with home-made equipment, etc. Today, I have presented the visiting lecturer to all the grade students (also in Virtual Campus). In summary, the last month I have been trying to increase the students' motivation for this weekend. I'm setting the learning environment. I'm trying to arouse their interest in the topic. I see ALL these small (and aparently) "silly" and non-important pieces, to be part of a good pedagogy in this context. Of course is not just this. There are more things to do, but I see these as huge important. That's my view. PD. The visiting lecturer is the BIG Antonio Méndez-Giménez.

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